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Clear Views of Terror: DeLillo's 'Falling Man'

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

Don DeLillo is one of the most admired writers in America. His latest novel, "Falling Man," takes on the awful events of September 11th. DeLillo narrates from the viewpoints of a number of people, including one of the hijackers. It's a style he's developed in past works. Here's our reviewer, Alan Cheuse.

ALAN CHEUSE: It was not a street anymore but a world. A time and space of falling ash and near night, is how "Falling Man" opens. What follows are the stories of a survivor of the falling World Trade towers, a New Yorker named Keith from the Upper Westside, his estranged wife Lianne, his ex-poker partner Terry Cheng(ph) and Florence, another survivor, from across Central Park.

DeLillo renders these characters in prose exquisite in its depiction of psychological and physical horror, and demanding in its sometimes Zen-like pace. No one writing in American letters today does better than DeLillo at rendering altered states of mind, and this gift produces the vertiginous sensation that as we're reading, the very ground beneath us may be about to disappear.

The arch of the falling towers and falling lives shapes this novel whose disparate sequences might seem otherwise disjointed and damaged aspects of a world gone out of control. Toward the end of the story, as we move inevitably toward one of the most terrifying conclusions in recent American fiction - the attack on the towers from the point of view of one of the hijackers - we learn with Leanne that some New Yorkers are beginning to read the Quran in order to try and fathom the motive behind the attacks.

A doctor she knows recites to her the first line of the Muslim Holy Scripture. Quote, "this book is not to be doubted." Neither is this one, brilliant and all-producing at once, which of perhaps not a full blown masterpiece, will certainly give us plenty to live with for a long time.

ROBERTS: Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and is co-author of "Writers Workshop in a Book." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.